degrassiDegrassi: The Next Generation — Season 7 (2009, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment)
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Degrassi: The Next Generation is like the older, Canadian cousin of the BBC’s Skins. Skins is brasher and quite a bit more racy, but that doesn’t mean that Degrassi: The Next Generation is some old fuddy duddy. Quite the contrary, using a half hour format (perfect for today’s attention deficit teenagers) and a much quicker pace, Degrassi: The Next Generation tackles the same issues as Skins with just as much drama, humor and effectiveness (with none of the nudity or foul language)

Echo Bridge Home Entertainment has just released the complete seventh Season of Degrassi: The Next Generation in a four-disc box set. If you are as unfamiliar with Degrassi as I was, starting your journey into the Degrassi universe with the seventh season is a little disorienting, like suddenly attending a new high school mid-way through the school year. However, a few clicks of the mouse are an easy remedy to that problem. Season 7 was significant because many of the regulars from the show (who had been on it all seven seasons) were finally graduating from high school (mind you, the actors playing these roles were actual teenagers and not twentysomethings trying to pass as teens). Particularly long-running was Emma (Miriam McDonald), whose origin dates back to the 1987 series, Degrassi Junior High, and whose character was the catalyst for Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The history of these characters may seem complicated, but once you’re immersed in this world, you quickly catch on. Which is good, because Degrassi has a cast so large I could spend most of this review rattling off their names and how they all interconnect. Instead, I’ll highlight several of the compelling story arcs that carried through season 7:

Shanae Grimes (currently starring on the Beverly Hills 90210 reboot) portrays Darcy, a devout Christian who has a holier than thou complex to go with her purity ring. But she has a wild side and dates reformed bad boy, Peter (Jamie Johnston), behind her parents’ back. After a night of partying at a ski lodge, Darcy awakens with a hangover, naked, in bed with Peter. She assumes that she lost her virginity to Peter, but she soon learns that a stranger roofied her drink and raped her. The manner in which Darcy, Peter and their friend, Manny (Cassie Steele) handle the situation is both real and frustrating. Over the course of the season, Darcy’s decent into despair and questionable behavior was, I’ll admit it, engrossing. Grimes does a fine job of gradually losing it.

Spinner (Shane Kippel) is a bit of a screw up, nice guy, but doesn’t apply himself. In season 7 he battles testicular cancer and chemotherapy. At one point he turns to pot to stimulate his appetite. However, the weed leads to trouble and he nearly ruins his chances of graduating. By the end of the year he realizes that graduating high school has greater benefits than being a full time stoner (he goes into remission, too — yeah!)

My favorite storyline involves Jimmy (Aubrey Graham), wheel chair bound after a deadly school shooting three seasons back. As he rehabs his body and does his best to be a normal kid, he contemplates stem cell surgery, against his parents’ wishes, and has to deal with the betrayal and break up with his long time girlfriend. Graham brings an optimism to the role that could have otherwise been a bitter and angry character.

These are just a few of the storylines that carry throughout the season. Executive producers Linda Schuyler, Stephen Stohn, and Sara Snow do an excellent job of keeping the stories focused on one or two of the regular and recurring characters at all time. Although several of the main characters appear in each episode, they are not necessarily the focal point of the plot. Unlike so many adult dramas that feel compelled to have a storyline each week for all of their characters, the Degrassi team is not afraid to let their characters sit in the background if the story requires them to.

It would be easy to write off Degrassi: The Next Generation as just another teen show and attribute its success to the growing young adult market, however that would demean the quality of acting, writing and overall production value that goes into this series. Moreover, unlike many of its American counterparts on the teen oriented cable channels and network television (primarily the CW), Degrassi: The Next Generation is consistent, involving entertainment featuring “real” characters and not fantasy situations of rich kids in private schools or living in wealthy, Beverly Hills mansions. I know that a lot of you must be thinking, “who cares?” But Degrassi is a pop culture phenomenon with roots that date back to the 1980’s, when many of us were teens ourselves. Many of us have our own kids who may eventually come upon the show in their adolescence. Wouldn’t it be good to know what our children are watching?

Okay, I’ll admit it, the show is quite addicting.

Degrassi: The Next Generation challenges its viewers by making them think about the issues of the day and by making them feel for the characters. Maybe you’re not going to rush out and buy or rent this season of Degrassi, but should your teenager start talking about it, at least you’ll know what the buzz is about.

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About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Follow him @MrMalchus

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